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WiFi Safety Issue Sparks Controversy

Is WiFi technology potentially harmful to your health and the environment? It's a question as old as the technology itself but one nobody seems to be able to answer definitively. On each side of the aisle, though, there's enough evidence to support a “yes” or “no” answer.

It's time the industry demystify this issue. Although the controversy fades in and out depending on current market trends, it will not completely go away until the mystery surrounding WiFi technology is finally tackled head-on by everyone involved. Companies that develop and market products embedded with WiFi technology should take the lead on this and inform consumers on their findings.

Recent developments here in Europe show why an Ostrich-like stick-the-head-in-the-sand approach won't work. Researchers used to focus on the potential impact of WiFi on humans, but more work is being done on how the technology may also affect our environment.

The latest WiFi conflagration ignited in the small Dutch city of Alphen aan den Rijn after township officials, worried about the health of some 36,000 trees, asked scientists to conduct an investigation into the potential impact of WiFi on the environment. The city asked for the study after discovering that 70 percent of its trees were exhibiting signs of abnormalities, such as “nodes or bark degeneration,” according to a report.

Professor Andre van Lammeren, an associate professor of plant cell biology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands took the offer and conducted small-scale, controlled research that seemed to back up the theory that WiFi transmissions can hurt trees.

Although Professor van Lammeren admitted his study was inconclusive, it still generated outrage in some quarters and was seized upon by many who believed WiFi transmissions could hurt the environment. For the Green movement, the almost deafening silence on the report from high-tech companies was another call to action. If the industry is not actively responding and showing its own evidence that WiFi is safe, it must be because the market is hiding something from the public. Is it?

I don't believe so, but a better campaign to provide additional evidence on the issue is required. The Wi–Fi Alliance has tried to champion the issue and has rejected the idea that the technology is dangerous to consumers.

I am not an alarmist, but technology products have permeated every segment of our society, and we should know how they affect our environment. WiFi, for instance is now being used in schools, hospitals, homes, and everywhere people and companies can leverage the lower cost options it offers.

Some scientists disagreed with van Lammeren's findings, and the researcher has himself cautioned against drawing any conclusions from his study. Opponents said there was not enough scientific evidence to substantiate the research findings, but there have not been enough scientific findings to disprove the concerns raised.

I would like the industry to look more closely at studies like this and show evidence regularly about the safety of the technology. We should also not hesitate to conduct rolling studies on technologies currently in the marketplace to determine how these affect people, animals, and the environment.

If the evidence points to low, limited, or no risks at all, we can all sleep better. If it shows high-level impact, then steps must be taken to moderate usage and advise consumers on best practices to limit or eliminate the negative impact. At the extreme end, technologies that research evidence indicates are quite dangerous to people and our environment should not be deployed or its use extremely limited. High-tech manufacturers owe this much to their societies, consumers, and shareholders.

Whether substantiated or not, reports similar to the one from the Dutch city of Alphen aan den Rijn raise an awareness that should not be ignored or blindly swept aside. For me, the controversy surrounding WiFi safety raises another troubling question: How safely can technology and living things coexist? It's a question we'll still be asking decades from now, but to some extent we do deserve answers as new technological developments are added to the ones we have today.

The consumers want more, not less, transparency.

10 comments on “WiFi Safety Issue Sparks Controversy

  1. eemom
    January 18, 2011

    This is an issue I've often wondered / worried about.  There has been a question about WiFi safety to consumers for a long time, it is scary to think the effect on the environment as well.  I hope this controversy sparks concern around the globe to the effect of corporations getting together to conduct the necessary research so consumers are educated to the effects of WiFi.  Even if the effect is minor now, I have to believe that it is only going to get worse with time and more dependency on technology.

  2. Ms. Daisy
    January 18, 2011

    Anna:

    The public continues to be concerned about the safety of all the devices that send and receive radiofrequency signals to and from base stations.  They are called “radiofrequency” or “RF” energy or radiation. Radio waves and microwaves released by transmitting antennas are one form of electromagnetic energy.  Research reports like this one feeds into the frenzy about the concern for public and environmental safety.

    Please don’t take this wrongly, I am not saying that people should not be concerned, or at least be curious about the long term impact of radiations of any kind, ionizing (x-rays or gamma rays )or non-ionizing (Radio waves and microwaves ). And yes, you are right that the industry need to produce research studies on their safety to allay the publics fears or at least partner with governmental agencies and foundations to study the effects of the RFs.

    There are ongoing studies being conducted by many researchers including the World Health Organization, (WHO); investigating the association of cell phone use and cancer, other health effects are being studied, including effects on the eyes, sleep and memory problems, and headaches. NIOSH, and CDC also have ongoing studies to better understand the consequences of longterm exposures. 

    For people who are very concerned and would like to know, there are some of the studies results which can be accessed at the following Web sites:

    http://www.who.int/peh-emf/research/rf03/en/ .

     http://ftp.fcc.gov/marketsense/cellphone-health.html .

    NIOSH Publication on Video Display Terminals NIOSH Publication No. 99-135 (3rd ed., 1999)
    This publication is a collection of NIOSH studies and statements on all kinds of health effects from working with VDTs, including studies which found no link between their EMF emissions and reproductive

     

  3. Jay_Bond
    January 18, 2011

    While I agree that there are many long term effects that have not been discovered or published yet, this issue is nothing new. WiFi, just like cell phones use RF (radio frequency). With all of the multiple companies here in the U.S. let alone the rest of the world continually using new frequencies, there is an over abundance of RF signals transmitting over the air waves.

    The increase in RF signals being transmitted has been increasing steadily since the 80's, with a large explosion with the turn of the century. While much of the concerns have been focused on direct contact with radiation from the phones, not much research has been done on the effects of the environment. 

    If there is going to be research started looking into these effects, cell phones and their increased use is going to have to be a factor also.  

  4. saranyatil
    January 20, 2011

    definitely it is just not that WI FI is causing some problem highest problem or the monster is the waves from mobile phone. this has lead to many of them having problems in their ear drum. many R & D teams having been working on this issue from a long tyime no one has come with a solution yet. with the improvements in field of communication the amount of RF waves are also increasing.

  5. stochastic excursion
    January 20, 2011

    There's a couple of things about this issue that aren't surprising.  One is that non-thermal levels of RF have been correlated with adverse biological effects.  The other is that it was only outside the U.S. that attention was focused on the basic facts.

    Though there is a large amount of provocative research internationally on the effects of non-thermal RF; in the U.S. research community, basically the paint has to peel before levels are even considered to have an effect.  This is even when cell phone antennas have to be designed with the transmission impedance of the human cranium taken into account.

    It's a familiar scenario where people who are invested in a certain industrial activity automatically deny the science of studies that point to the dangers of that activity.

  6. Anna Young
    January 20, 2011

    Hi eemom,

    I agree with the comments you made; it is of concern to note that there is an issue of safety in the use of WiFi, something some organisations will want to ignore.

    The world is excited at the prospect of new technological advances incorporating WiFi as a pleasure tool, so at present the concerns of the few on the adverse effects are minor. Lets us hope that the signs are picked up now rather than wait for the medical community to alert us all to the disastrous effects.

  7. Anna Young
    January 20, 2011

    Miss Daisy,

    Your assertion is not too far from the truth but in reality a proper research needs to be conducted. There is no doubt that we all welcome the advancement of technology and its immense impact in all aspects of our lives.

    My issue of concern is will there be any research that remains unbiased and independent in its findings.

     

  8. Clairvoyant
    January 20, 2011

    This is the same issue when there was all the talk about cell phone signals. With the world relying more and more on technology, and wireless signals being a part of that, I think there needs to be more research done on long term effects.

  9. tender vittles
    January 20, 2011

    This is the issue that has been debated for a couple of decades now with respect to cell phone signal exposure. THere is not conclusive evidence that cel phones cause brain tumors or other types of cancers or abnormalities. At least according to the cell phone industry. Of course the cell phone industry would be very concerned with the user's health right?? Wink wink.

    I think this is like amalgam fillings in your mouth. The dental industry doesn't want to say that putting mercury in your mouth could be potentially toxic over the long course because that would be a HUGE liability lawsuit waiting to happen. Yet you would NEVER put mercury in your mouth by choice would you??

    Ditto an industry that fleeces it's customers of billions in assorted fees and penalties each and every year. WHat good for business is…..well…..good for business.

    There are those that believe that cell phone towers could be the reason we have a decline in bees. Perhaps WiFi is the same thing. Of course those two items are strictly speaking non-ionizing radiation. Is it dangerous? Nobody knows. But it is profitable so it is unlikely to go away any time soon. This is a similar argument that was made against high voltage transmission lines traversing property close to where people lived. The low frequency EMF, constantly bombarding your body might make your hair fall out, make you restless at night, cause tumors etc. Of course the power company's studied this and concluded there was no credible evidence to support that any harm could come to those living under the power lines. The one exception was when a farmer was blown off of a tin roof on his barn when he put his fiberglass ladder against it and climbed up to the roof one hot humid summer afternoon. Upon reach for the roof the charge that accumulated on the roof blew the farmer off the ladder. The power company's fix was to ground the roof for him.

    I mean we worry about everything, but none of it goes away. AM/FM broadcasts, HD broadcasts. microwave transmissions, microwave oven leakage, cell phones, WiFi, radiation from the sun, solar wind atmospheric discharges, radiation exposure in airport security, radiation exposure at the dentists office, medical Xrays of your body, radiation while at altitude, oscillators in your electronics, low frequency radiation from power lines and on and on. If it bothers people I would recomend they invest in tin foil and wrap themselves up in it at night so your wireless router doesn't do you in whilst you sleep. Dont forget to ground the foil.

  10. Susan Fourtané
    January 23, 2011

    tender vittles, very good comment. 

    The reasons for CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) are not clear for researchers yet. Some time ago I attended a presentation by a researcher from the University of Paris and his team was trying to find the real causes for the dead of honey bees. An important point during the presentation was to emphasize on the consequences of the disappearance of bees in the whole ecosystem. WiFi was not blamed for the dead of bees. 

    -Susan

     

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